Okabe Kabusecha (岡部かぶせ茶) is a traditional green tea from Japan that is grown at low altitude on the shores of Asahina River in Okabe, Shizuoka Prefecture. Made from the Yabukita (やぶきた) cultivar, it produces a flavoursome yet delicate grassy liquor with a fine balance of sweet verdant and salty umami notes. Kabusecha is a partially shaded tea that is similar to gyokuro and is covered from the sun during growth for around 12 days prior to plucking to concentrate the flavour in the leaves. We source it directly from the grower in Shizuoka and this particular batch was harvested in the first flush harvest of May 2020.
Okabe Kabusecha green tea undergoes a growing process that is similar to that of gyokuro. For gyokuro tea, the plants are typically shielded from the sun for at least 20 days prior to the harvest that occurs in May of each year. By comparison, kabusecha is covered from the sun for a shorter period of time. The covering of the tea forces the tea plants to slow the rate of photosynthesis, leading to higher levels of theanine. This change in chemistry of the leaves creates a much sweeter, mellower taste with a bolder character that is grassy and rich in umami flavours. The medium length of covering for this Okabe Kabusecha results in a flavour profile that is bolder and more complex than classic sencha but not as rich and savoury when compared to typical gyokuro.
Okabe is a region that is known for growing shaded teas, with Asahina Gyokuro and Asahina Kabusecha being well-known names. The most famous region for gyokuro is without doubt Uji (Kyoto Prefecture), where our classic Uji Gyokuro hails from. Also famous is Yame Gyokuro (Fukuoka Prefecture). Okabe is perhaps less well-known but still is a region with rich history of covered tea production. Okabe was depicted by Utagawa Hiroshige in one of the woodblock prints produced circa 1842 depicting a mountain pass at Okabe and travellers approaching a tea house, the proprietress serving, no doubt, local tea. There is more information on this print available from the Met Museum website.
Our Okabe Kabusecha has dark green, very fine leaf that has a sweet, grassy aroma. The liquor produced is opaque, with a rich green colour and an umami, savoury aroma. The flavours are very smooth, with creamy, brassica notes that have a particularly verdant and grassy edge. The clean aftertaste is very smooth, non-astringent and has hints of seaweed and salt water. When brewed Western style, the soft profile is not particularly savoury, yet the typical savoury and umami notes are still present. Brewed in the more traditional Japanese style, the savoury notes are more pronounced but are nicely balanced by complex sweetness of this tea. This tea occupies a niche somewhere between a flavoursome yet lighter taste of sencha and the much more complex profile of gyokuro.
You can brew this tea Western style (2.5g of tea per 200-250ml) at 70°C for about 2 minutes but you will not get the full flavour complexity that is typical of traditional Japanese style of brewing. To get the most when brewing Western style, you should use at least twice the amount of leaves you normally would. That way you are closer to enjoying the authentic flavours. Using this method, brew at 60°C for 1-2 mins in multiple infusions.
But for best and most authentic results we find 10g per 200ml-250ml of water to be the correct amount for this tea. Brew using good quality water that has been heated to 60°C and using traditional Japanese side-handled teaware used for gyokuro that has a fine mesh. As you are using lower temperature water, preheating your teaware prior to brewing is a particularly good idea. In our testing, a first infusion of 90 seconds followed by multiple infusions at around 60 seconds, worked particularly well. As always, keep increasing steeping time until no flavour is left.